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Response to Ms. Sanders: Why guns make Americans safer

Christopher A. Kierkus 12:02 a.m. CST March 5, 2016
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(Photo: Submitted) In her "Open letter to gun advocates," Ms. Barbara Sanders asks the Second Amendment community to "Please, help (her) understand" why we insist upon our right to bear arms. In this reply, I'd like to do precisely that - not just for Ms. Sanders, but for anyone who questions the wisdom of gun ownership.

My reasons are simple:

First, Ms. Sanders was profoundly mistaken when she wrote: "The Constitution said we have the right to bear arms in a militia, those arms being muskets ... not AK-47 weapons."

The Second Amendment makes no reference to particular kinds of weapons, nor is it not historically specific. Surely, Ms. Sanders doesn't believe that First Amendment freedom of speech protections apply only to documents written with ancient quill pens, does she?

Moreover, legal scholars agree that the right to bear arms is an individual right that enables states to raise and organize militias, not vice versa. The Supreme Court of the United States has affirmed this interpretation in two landmark decisions (Heller and McDonald). If Ms. Sanders wishes to challenge gun ownership on legal grounds, she really ought to take a moment to familiarize herself with the basics of constitutional law.

Second, and more importantly, social science research teaches us several practical lessons:

Research by Gary Kleck and associates demonstrates that people who defend themselves from violent criminals using firearms are less likely to be hurt than those who respond in other ways, including complying with their attackers, or resisting by any other means.

In mass shooting incidents, when armed citizens on scene respond immediately to stop offenders, an average of 2.5 victims are killed; when victims must wait for the police to arrive and take action, the average death toll exceeds 14!

The data show that licensed gun carriers are not only more law abiding, and less violent, than "the general population," but compare favorably with sworn police officers on both of these measures. Furthermore, when a licensed citizen does open fire in self-defense, studies suggest that innocent bystanders are less likely to be injured in comparison to situations where police officers fire their service weapons. In 2004, the National Academy of Sciences reviewed hundreds of studies and found no statistical evidence that any gun control strategy had reduced gun crime. Then, in 2013, President Barack Obama asked the CDC to give him a "second opinion" by re-examining the literature; yet they reached precisely the same conclusion: There is zero evidence that "gun control" is effective. It also is notable that while gun ownership in the U.S. has substantially increased over the past two decades, gun crime and "accidental shootings" (particularly among children) have declined just as sharply.

So ultimately, I would respond to Ms. Sanders with a question of my own: If the scholarly research proves that firearms are the best way for people to defend themselves, and there is no evidence that "gun control" reduces gun violence, why does she keep advocating for it? Does she really want to endanger all of us? Please, help me understand.

Christopher A. Kierkus is an associate professor of criminal justice at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Mich.